Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
America Will Be

Understanding Primary Sources:
Evaluating John Smith's Description of Indians in Virginia

Objective: Students compare John Smith's description of Indians in Virginia with other scholarly and first-person descriptions, then evaluate the information in John Smith's account.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
3-4 hours over 2-3 days

Building Background:
Discuss with students the clash of cultures between the English who settled Jamestown and the Indian groups already living in the area. Help students create a list of differences that may have existed between the two groups such as physical appearance, clothing, housing, food, and views of nature. When finished, tell students they will be reading John Smith's description of the Powhatan Indians, an Algonquin Indian group living in Virginia at the time of English settlement, then comparing his observations with those found in other accounts and sources.

What To Do:

1. Have students use the library to find John Smith's description of the Powhatan Indians. One source is America Firsthand, Volume 1,by Robert D. Marcus & David Burner. After students have studied the material, discuss what John Smith describes from the Powhatan culture and the manner in which he describes it.

2. Work with students to develop a list of research topics based on what Smith describes in his account. The list may include the Powhatans' physical appearance, clothing, food sources, culture, social life, and attitudes toward children.

3. Divide the class into research groups. Have each group select a specific topic from the list to research further. Distribute The Powhatan: Comparing Sources worksheet. Have each group re-read John Smith's account to find and record what he writes about their chosen topic.

4. Have students use other sources, such as encyclopedias, to research their topics.

Remind students to record their findings on the worksheet.

5. When students have finished their research, have each research team prepare a report comparing John Smith's description with those from other sources. In what ways are the accounts similar? In what ways are they different? Did other sources give them different information about the Powhatan? Did John Smith describe anything not discussed by other sources? What, if anything, did John Smith's writings about the Powhatan say about him as a person? Each group should provide specific examples to support their conclusions.

Ask the class to evaluate John Smith's description of the Powhatan. In their opinion, was it clear and accurate? Did it cover important aspects of the Powhatan way of life? How much of it reflected his own attitudes toward the Indians? Did having other sources change students' understanding of the Powhatan?


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